Application: Pressing the Text upon the Heart (Part 5)

Although I had mentioned in the previous post that I would deal with the different aspects of application next, upon further reflection I have decided instead to address the issue of personal application. In my last post, I walked through several fallen conditions and their corresponding gospel solutions. But if you read closely, you will see that the fallen conditions are expressed in general terms. This was intentional, since my goal is to identify different aspects of our “fallenness” that the text identifies as universal. But now my goal is to articulate how each of these fallen conditions specifically manifests itself in my own life. It is at this point that the process of application moves from general to specific, since a fallen condition may manifest itself differently in my life than it does in yours.

Let’s take the example of the parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. In the midst of this parable, Jesus warns his listeners:

Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15 ESV)

So a pretty obvious fallen condition would look something like this:

We seek to find life/joy/fulfillment/contentment in the abundance of our possessions

But this fallen condition can show up in a variety of ways. For example:

  1. For the person who is wealthy, it may reveal itself in the sense of pride and arrogance that believes all that they have is the product of their own hard work and has nothing to do with God’s common grace.
  2. For the person who is poor, it may reveal itself in the constant preoccupation with acquiring more money/possessions, believing that if only they had a little more wealth it would solve the vast majority of their problems.
  3. Regardless of a person’s wealth, it may reveal itself in working long hours at the expense of time with family, believing that life is found in providing a certain standard of living for his family.
  4. It may reveal itself in a person who turns to shopping or buying things to deal with the difficulties or frustrations of life, believing that buying one more thing will bring them the joy they are seeking.
  5. It may reveal itself in a person who is stingy and refuses to give generously, fearing that if too much is given away the desired lifestyle will not be attainable.
  6. In the person who is retired, it may show itself in an attitude that views the retirement years as an entitlement to be lazy or selfish in how time and resources are spent. After all, because of his years of hard work he is now entitled to spend his time and energy on whatever he wants.

Hopefully that gives you a sense of what I mean when I say that the fallen condition identified in a passage can reveal itself in different ways depending on a person’s circumstances, personality, upbringing, culture, etc. Because I am not a wealthy person, it could be quite easy to read Luke 12:13-21 and think “Since I am not wealthy, this passage really has nothing or very little to say.” But when I realize that the fallen condition is a disease that has a variety of symptoms depending on the person, I am reminded to ask diagnostic questions that reveal the presence of the disease.

The recognition that the fallen condition reveals itself differently in different people is also an important bridge to applying the text to others when you teach or preach. If you were preaching or teaching Luke 12:13-21, it would be tempting for the people in your group/audience who do not view themselves as rich to “check out” because they think the passage has nothing to say to them. But when you help people to see the fallen condition and its various symptoms, it becomes much more difficult for anyone in the group/audience to think “This passage has nothing to say to me.”

As a final note on this subject, the more specific you can be, the more clearly you and the people you lead will be able to see the fallen condition at work. Try to give specific examples that reveal the presence of the fallen condition, so that when people recognize their own thoughts, attitudes and actions in what you are describing they will realize that they think, feel or act that way because they are infected with the fallen condition you have identified. The more specific you are in identifying the fallen condition, the more precision you will have in applying the gospel solution. The better you know the specific people you are leading as well as the larger cultural influences that feed the fallen condition you have identified, the better you will be able to speak God’s Word into their lives. A friend of mine once referred to this as “reading people’s mail.” In other words, when you identify the fallen condition and how it shows up in a person’s life, you want them to have that moment where they think, “That’s totally how I think/feel/act.” Once a person is to that point, the gospel solution will seem especially sweet.

Lord willing, next week, we will move to the different aspects of application.

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